Buying notebooks …

Well, I’m trained as a scientist and engineer, so I keep a notebook. This is something I have done religiously since I was in grad school, much to my wife’s dismay.

Since 1991 I have loved the National brand Chemistry Notebook (number 43-571), but National was bought a few years ago and the new owners cut a stupid corner by reducing the notebook from 128 pages to 120. Worse yet, this notebook has become rather expensive to buy, costing upward of $10 per book. The pages are still numbered for me, but the reduction from 128 to 120 remains an irritant. national-brand-43-571-chemistry-notebook

So, when I recently changed jobs and, at the same time, ran out of notebooks I decided to switch to the Clairefontaine 9542C.  This is a smaller notebook with paper that is slightly more opaque and quadrille ruled 5×5 to the inch.


Oddly, despite the fact that it is made in France and described with metric dimensions (14.8 cm x 21 cm) the ruling is specified as 5×5 to the inch.  I agree that this is a convenient grid size for technical notebooks, but is there no metric ruling that matches?  0.5 cm come so mind, since that would end up very close to 5×5 to the inch, since 5 x 0.5 cm is 2.5 cm, and 2.54 cm is an inch.  Perhaps it is marketed as 0.5 cm square grid in Europe but as 5×5 to the inch in the US?

Anyway, I needed to buy some more of these notebooks.  Normally I pick them up from a stationery store near my apartment, but that is inconvenient and expensive.

I tried looking for them on Amazon (, to be precise).  While I can find them, it’s hard to tell which product is being sold because Amazon’s product information for these Clairefontaine notebooks is dreadful.  And they’re expensive.

After being frustrated by the unusually low quality of Amazon’s offerings I tried searching Google for “clairefontaine 9542c”.  To my surprise, I found an page near the top of the organic results.  Even more of a surprise was the fact that it was offering five of these lovely notebooks for about 10 euros, or only a little bit more than I was paying for one in the US.

Not reading German I decided to try  There I found these notebooks, again better described, priced at ten pounds for a package of five.  I ordered two packages.  Even with shipping to the US these notebooks come out at about half the price that I pay for them in the US.

A Fine Tunnel

Some years ago I went skiing with some Italian friends.  I flew to their home in Pisa and we drove north along the west coast of the country to Sestriere, at the triple juncture of Switzerland, France, and Italy, a lovely ski area.

The road we took went through the area of Genoa.  This particular road is a high-speed limited access highway.  Probably the A12 according to modern maps.  In this section the coast is very steep, almost cliffs running down to the compact city of Genoa.  One  section of the road is particularly dramatic, an alternating sequence of bridges and tunnels through the steeply inclined terrain above Genoa.

Anyway, as we drove north we went through one of the longer tunnels.  As we were in the middle of this particular tunnel I saw a sign that gave me a peculiar Alice in Wonderland sensation.  The sign, a professionally executed one with all the hallmarks of the highway system, showed an outline of a cup of coffee, a little wisp of steam proceeding from its top.  With the picture of the cup of coffee was the text, “A fine tunnel.”

Yes, I reflected for a moment, it is indeed a fine tunnel, but why have such a sign?  Shortly thereafter I realized that I had read the sign in the wrong language.  It was not praising the qualities of the tunnel in English but rather alerting tired drivers to the fact that there was a place to get a cup of coffee at the end of the tunnel (read it aloud as ‘ah feen-eh toon-nel’ to hear how it would sound to Italians).

My host, the driver of the car, and I laughed at my initial reaction.  A fine tunnel, indeed!